Gay people have “gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” according to a Vatican report released Monday that stunned both LGBT advocates and traditional marriage proponents with its “welcoming” language.
The report, a midterm summary of this month’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, stopped short of calling same-sex unions equal to the marriage between a man and a woman, but said these same-sex couples pose important questions for the church’s future.
“The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension,” the report stated.
“Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions, it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners,” it said.
Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, said the report is “pretty shocking.”
“It implies that there are special gifts and qualities of homosexuals that the rest of us don’t have. I think the Catholic world is really shook up — some positively, many negatively — about what this document means.”
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But among advocates for the gay community, it was a hopeful message.
“I think it’s unexpectedly positive in terms of LGBT people and families, as well as just the overall approach that the Extraordinary Synod participants seem to be taking,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, an advocacy group for gay Catholics. “That LGBT people have gifts and qualities that should be welcomed in the Christian community is a much different starting point than ‘you are objectively disordered,’ which is what we’ve been hearing for about 30 years. That starting point, about how LGBT families are talked about, is very significant.”
The Human Rights Campaign called the report “a light in the darkness” for gay Catholics.
The report, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said, sets “a dramatic new tone from a church hierarchy that has long denied the very existence of committed and loving gay and lesbian partnership.”
The midterm report, released Monday, summarized the past week of discussion during the synod, where more than 200 cardinals, bishops, priests and laypeople are discussing family-related matters pressuring the church. The synod is ongoing through Oct. 25.
Among the issues being discussed are birth control, civil weddings, divorce and annulment.
“The guidance of the Spirit, constantly invoked, will allow all God’s people to live the fidelity to the Gospel of the family as a merciful caring for all situations of fragility,” the report stated.
The Catholic Church teaches that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered,” that is, inherently contrary to the purpose of sex, which is the life-giving union of a man and woman permanently attached in marriage. That phrase is used to describe gay sex acts in the letter “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” written in 1986 by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
The church also teaches, according to the current catechism, that “men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies … must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. … Homosexual persons are called to chastity … they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”
Grazie Christie, policy adviser for The Catholic Association, said she did not see anything that qualified as “groundbreaking.”
The report “confirms homosexual marriage can’t be considered in the same way [heterosexual] marriage is,” she said. “It states that very clearly.”
“Every human being in the Catholic perspective is a valuable person. Every human being adds to the beauty and value of humanity,” Ms. Christie said. “All of us, no matter what type of sinner, adds value to the church.
“What they’re restating [in the report] is what all of us, people who have been paying attention, are clear on,” she said.
According to the Vatican, among the synod participants who helped write up the report with the general rapporteur, the special secretary and the secretary general were Cardinals Gianfranco Ravasi and Donald W. Wuerl, Archbishops Victor Manuel Fernandez and Carlos Aguiar Retes, Bishop Peter Kang U-il and the Rev. Adolfo Nicolas Pachon.
Cardinal Wuerl is the archbishop of Washington.
William Mattison, associate professor of moral theology at the Catholic University of America, said he didn’t see the report as a major overhaul to doctrine but rather a “significant shift in emphasis.”
The church might have “been too emphatic in the past on an all-or-nothing approach,” while now it’s “accentuate the good, move them closer to where you hope they’ll be.”
Ellen Euclide, director of programs at Call to Action, said the toning down of language was “wonderful, but it’s not enough.”
“There still have been no real changes. Even if someone is going to focus on gifts and talents rather than being ‘intrinsically disordered,’ it’s still not recognizing our families and our relationships,” she said. “People are still being fired, families are being literally torn apart because of [the church’s] teaching on LGBT issues and divorce. We need some real action.”